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Emerging Youth: China

Market Focus

Published by:

6 October 2020

Author: Elizabeth Lee and Sophie Boldog

Image: Microsoft rebranding by Microsoft and Tendril

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Showing their post-pandemic resilience, young Chinese are fusing highly disparate worlds: cloud raves, pastoral living and nostalgic apparel

Today, the youth of China have proved themselves highly adaptable to modern crises, while experimenting with cultural traditions.

What was once revered as hallmarks of Western imperialism is dissipating amongst the country's youth. Instead, what arises out of this Covid-19-stricken landscape is an ever-evolving class of Chinese youth. They are colliding opposites – countryside livestreaming, revamped indigenous design and isolated partying.

This is a generation of critically engaged, global thinkers who balance their expert navigation of technology-fuelled terrain with a longing for simplicity. Brands must understand their paradoxical mindsets to reach them.

Reflective power

Bearing the stigmas associated with Covid-19, Chinese have experienced an escalation in hostility. Sinophobia has emerged, particularly in the Global North (source: British Journal of Chinese Studies). This alienation has resulted in Chinese worldwide to retreat back – be it socially or ideologically – to their homeland.

Meanwhile, China continues its national rejuvenation campaign: an effort to restore pride in the country’s cultural and economic prowess. According to Yiyan Wang, Professor of Chinese at Victoria University of Wellington: ‘Telling a national story has always been important for the Chinese. Modernity means different things for different people.’ As they encounter othering from the West, the act of turning inward to China’s soft power is increasingly becoming a reflective device for its youth.

Finding solace from the extremities of a lockdown, Chinese youth are seeking intimacy in times of separation, fostering belonging on screen. Cloud raves are introspective as they are communal, and started to bloom in larger numbers amidst the nationwide lockdown (Source: Vice).

Shanghai Community Radio has hosted live-streamed DJ sets on Generation Z video streaming platform Bilibili, with its longest rave lasting 36 hours, with DJs streaming from their home with DIY visuals. Katy Roseland, founder of Shanghai Community Radio, says: ‘The raves were extremely intimate and warm hearted. It was a way for people to have a release and to remember what it was like to party, to have a bit normalcy.’

SHCR Documentary
'The raves were a way for people to have a release and to remember what it was like to party, to have a bit normalcy'
Katy Roseland, founder, Shanghai Community Radio

Reclaiming the rural

China’s rural population is increasingly marking its presence on the digital realm. As rural internet users pass 250m, more digitally-savvy youths are claiming ownership of online platforms (Source: Yicai Global). Young people have even switched Animal Crossing for locally developed Canal Towns, a simulation game where players can build an agricultural life in the Ming Dynasty.

Rural tastelessness, or tu dou, has led Chinese youth to embrace a pastoralism once familiar with their ancestors. According to Wang, tu dou started on social media: ‘Within every generation there is a group who would want to opt out. This includes cultivating a lifestyle away from the city, away from competition and going back to live with the natural world.’ This draws parallels to the 1970s Down to the Countryside movement, when 17m urban youths were sent to rural areas to be reeducated by farmers.

Fuelling this interest, rural vloggers are captivating viewers with their idyllic worlds. With a following of 9m, Li Ziqi is part of this new generation sharing their bucolic lives, with videos ranging from ancient winemaking techniques to bamboo weaving.

Meanwhile, video channel Yitiao is a dedicated space showcasing Chinese and Asian youth setting up homes in the countryside. The lifestyle reportage includes a recent graduate adopting a craftswoman’s life in the mountain and an all-female village house, signalling a growing demand for tu dou entertainment.

National nostalgia

Disenchanted by the capitalist state, Chinese youth have for years been exploring their cultural identity. Now, enter guofeng, which translates to national style – a cultural genre including traditional music, dance and arts. Circulating through vloggers such as Shiyin and Xiao Dou Kou Erguofeng now has a strong youth following.

Under the guofeng umbrella is hanfu, Chinese traditional dress. Beginning as a microtrend, it is now a buzzword among brands. This year, Hanfu became a genre in ACG (anime, comic, game) at ChinaJoy2020Hanfu lovers are even using dedicated apps such as Gutao and Huaxiao, reminiscent of Instagram. Its key to remember that although hanfu celebrates Chinese heritage, its emphasis is on the Han ethnic group – who make up 91% of the mainland's population – and excludes the country’s diverse minority ethnic groups.

 

Screenshot 2020-10-06 at 10.01.48

 

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